VMware gotchas: The downside to small business software

Many IT pros think VMware’s small business software holds many ‘gotchas’. Our VMware expert reveals the downsides that could affect your small to medium-sized business.

Editor’s note: This is part two of this series from Mike Laverick. Check out part one here.

When purchasing VMware small business software, one of the common questions I’m asked is: ‘Are there any gotchas with these SMB packages’?

One gotcha surrounds the hardware you buy. With VMware’s Essentials editions, you will be limited by the fact that there are a limited number of cores per physical socket allowed and also by the number of vCPUs offered to the virtual machine (VM). So if your workload changes significantly, or you are trying to squeeze more from your initial purchase than you planned, you might find yourself limited by the SKU. For this reason some small and medium-sized businesses opt for one of VMware’s Advanced Acceleration kits instead.

The SMB and Enterprise classifications can cause a lot of confusion. Many businesses are SMB in size, but have scale and availability demands that make them more like enterprise customers when it comes to consuming software and hardware. They should look at the Midsize Acceleration Kit (with Enterprise) or the Enterprise Plus Acceleration Kit, which offer the best routes for getting all the features with the ability to upgrade as needed.

The alternative is to start looking at SKUs normally presented to enterprise customers, and use a handy matrix that shows the SKUs by feature, that is similar to use, in terms of look and feel, to the small business software version.

Enterprise and Enterprise Plus
Two issues jumped out at me when I looked at SKUs for the enterprise, back when VMware launched vSphere 4. The question that most large businesses must face is whether they perceive the features contained in the Enterprise Plus SKU to be important enough for them to pay the licensing premium attached to them. These features are

  • Storage I/O control
  • Network I/O control
  • Distributed vSwitch
  • Host profiles
  • Support for Cisco Nexus 1000V

When , Enterprise Plus irritated a significant number of VMware’s largest, most loyal customers because they thought they had future-proofed their purchase by buying the highest SKU, but Enterprise Plus had these extra features compared to the Enterprise version. It was as if those customers had built the world’s tallest building, only to find VMware had built a taller building by putting a metal spike on top of it to take the record.

My advice to customers when they look at VMware licensing from an enterprise perspective is to look at the Enterprise Plus SKU and ask themselves if it is worth the premium price attached to it. Frequently, I’m asked if I think VMware will change its position on the way the Enterprise Plus SKU is constructed – as if VMware tells me such commercially-sensitive information. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if, as with the SMB SKUs, we see features previously residing in the Enterprise or Enterprise Plus SKU finding their way into the lower-priced products. This pattern would match the recent changes in the SMB SKUs with the arrival of vSphere 4.1.

I believe, though, we will have to wait until we get the next generation of vSphere. I also believe VMware will maintain the “Plus” distinction. After fighting a (losing?) battle to justify its existence, it would be brave of the company to put up its hands and admit it made a mistake with this small business software.

Small business software downsides
The second of concern surrounds VMware’s Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) tool that moves VMs around to improve the performance of a VMware cluster. When the company clustering features in Virtual Infrastructure 3, it decided to license the clustering feature of High Availability (HA) and DRS Performance separately. This approach persists to this day, despite the fact that VMware HA is increasingly found in the lower SKUs for both SMB and Enterprise products. In fact, you will find a bundle of features that are only available in the Enterprise SKU —and not in the Standard or Advanced SKUs. These include support for the vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI) and Storage VMotion (SVMotion).

I suspect it will be difficult for VMware to stop the support for VAAI and SVMotion from drifting into the Advanced SKU by the next release. By then a lot of entry-level storage arrays will have the firmware required to run VAAI, but customers could find themselves lacking the right version of vSphere 4 to leverage the performance benefits.

Similarly, the ability to move VMs from one storage location to another without claiming a maintenance mode will become very much like vMotion – a standard feature customers expect, without a premium. With that said, the location of VMware DRS remains more important. After all, studies by VMware have shown that this automated system of placing VMs on the right ESX host and moving them to improve performance works better than an administrator making those decisions manually.

It’s hard to espouse the idea of a dynamic virtual data centre that constantly tunes and optimises itself on demand – whilst placing the feature that allows that functionality in a premium Enterprise SKU. What triggers many customers’ decision to buy the enterprise bundle, over the advanced bundle, is access to the DRS feature. Ironically, the other features they also get (VAAI and SVMotion) make it easier to sell it to their management, and the addition of this feature adds value to the purchase at the same time.

Mike Laverick is a professional instructor with 15 years of experience with Novell, Windows and Citrix technologies and has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. In addition to teaching, he is the owner and author of the virtualisation website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish user groups. He has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere 4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

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